The Gannet is pleased to note that Eminent Nutritionists, that august group who provide us with almost daily, and often contradictory, advice about what we should (and should not) eat and drink, have now decided that a juicy steak from a well-bred beast, potatoes roasted in goose fat and a decent slug of sauce béarnaise are not bad for you, after all. Nor, of course, is the occasional glass of claret – I find the 1982 vintage especially life-enhancing.
As far as the longevity of restaurants is concerned, however, diet seems to play a relatively small part. Many London ones burn brightly for a short while, their flames fuelled by the celebrity of their chefs; others serve perfectly delicious food, but concentrate more on making sure their diners enjoy their evening so much that they might return.
Take Patio, in Shepherd’s Bush. It opened in 1986, and the Polish menu has barely changed since: hearty portions of pork, beef and duck; plenty of vegetables, many of them pickled; and a long list of vodkas, the ideal aid to digestion. My last visit started with excellent smoked salmon with blinis, washed down with a shot of bison-grass vodka and continued with duck à la Polonaise: slow-cooked, from an estimable bird, bathed in an orange-flavoured sauce.
More importantly, the welcome is as warm as freshly cooked pierogi – owner Ewa Michalik, a former opera singer, makes sure of that – and the decor is unique, unless you happen to own a house in Warsaw untouched since the 1970s. There is a piano – its keys frequently tinkled – gilt-framed mirrors, pot plants and innumerable paintings and knick-knacks. But, most noticeably, Patio is always full of happy locals at candlelit tables; late in the evening, the vodka flows freely, and many of them leave as pickled as the vegetables.
Then there is Lemonia (pictured), in Primrose Hill, another 1980s stalwart. The cuisine is Greek and the dining room huge, with a conservatory at the back. My last meal here was at 4pm on a Sunday, and it was full. Like Patio, it is a family-friendly sort of place: even the waiters crack smiles at the kids as they pour glasses of something restorative for the grown-ups.
I always stick to the meze: proper, non-luminous taramasalata, perky tzatziki and exceptional, non-greasy imam bayildi, the aubergines fragrant with cinnamon. Fresh, warm pitta bread; smoky, salty loukanika sausages; saganaki (fried cheese, a sinful, wonderful thing); fried squid… not exactly advanced gastronomy, but there are times when all one really wants is something pleasant on which to nibble, in a buzzy dining room – and for me, 4pm on a Sunday is just such a time.